She found Skjor by the underforge, leaning against the stone like a thief on the lookout for guards. As she approached, he snuck up to stand in front of her, arms crossed against the chill in the air.
“I wasn’t sure you’d come. I saw you talking to Vilkas, and figured he probably tried to talk you out of it.”
“What is this place?”
“The underforge,” he explained. “It is a great source of power that lingers beneath the Skyforge, and it has been here so long no one remembers its origin.”
“So, why all the secrecy?”
“Come inside and I’ll tell you.”
She hesitated, not sure what awaited beyond that strange, stone door, even less sure she wanted to actually find out.
He pressed open the stone wall that hid the underforge from the world outside and stepped aside to allow her entry first. She nearly stumbled over her own feet when she looked up and saw a tall werewolf hovering near the brazier, the orange flame shining off her soft, brown coat, flickering in her golden eyes.
“We have to keep this a secret because if Kodlak found out, he wouldn’t be happy about it. He’s too busy trying to throw this all away, but this, sister, is what it means to be a true Companion.”
“Becoming a werewolf?” she asked, chills chasing across the hairs on the back of her neck before rippling down her spine.
“This is our greatest gift. It gives us power and strength unlike any other. Our fathers were wolves, and their fathers before them. If you wish to be a true Companion, a true sister to us, you will partake of the blood. Aela has offered to be your sire.”
She couldn’t believe the beast before her was Aela, the willowy woman she’d come to admire so much since they’d first met. She’d seen Farkas in his wolf form, and even that was still hard for her to believe, but this… it was almost too much to swallow.
“Are you with us, sister?” Skjor asked.
She remembered the argument, remembered what Farkas said, that Vilkas and Kodlak thought it was a curse, not a blessing, but if they were all cursed, and she was to be among them, she should share in their curse as well. Shouldn’t she? It was a burden they could share together until the end of their days.
Her voice caught in the back of her throat, but she swallowed hard against her fear and nodded. “I am with you.”
Skjor whooped and howled, and Aela lifted her muzzle to the ceiling, unleashing a long keen that sent shivers through Luthien’s entire body. She stepped up to the basin and looked down into the red pool that awaited her. She could smell its coppery scent, almost taste it on her tongue, but she was still afraid.
She didn’t remember much after the frenzy hit. The three of them running through the woods like a dream, tracking, hunting, devouring the carcass of an Elk they took down together. As she stood on her hind legs and lifted her face against the glow of moonlight clawing through the clouds, she howled, the great power surging through her as that sound echoed in the night and sent every animal for miles running to the hills. Her sister and brother followed suit, the three of them baying at the moon together, before dropping onto their paws and springing fast across the open plains until the sun came up at dawn.
She woke feeling stiff and groggy, her mind taking a few minutes to clear before she sat up and realized she was wearing naught but the skin she was born in, and a grinning Aela stood above her holding out her clothes. Her armor lay in a heap at Aela’s feet.
“Here, sister. Get dressed.”
“Where are we?” she asked, reaching for her clothes and quickly slipping into them.
“Just south of Gallows Rock,” Aela said. “I almost envy you. The first transformation is always the one you remember. It wasn’t an easy one, but it was successful. Do you remember much from last night?”
“I remember the moon,” was all she said.
Aela nodded, passing her sword over to her. “That’s what I always remember when I first wake up too. It feels good to run and hunt, but today we hunt for more than just beasts. Skjor’s already gone ahead. We’ll meet up with him there.”
“There’s a Silver Hand camp up at Gallow’s Rock. Their leader is notorious for torturing our kind, cutting off our skins and making them into rugs. They call him Krev the Skinner. Today, we take them out and show this Krev the Skinner not to mess with the Companions.”
The two of them sprinted across the fields until they came up on a secret entrance to the encampment and snuck inside. Luthien drew her blade and Aela strung her bow, ready to fire on sight. They took out the first three Silver Hand before they even knew what hit them, but the fourth went running through the tunnels to warn the others that they were coming. By the time they came up just outside the camp, they were met by a horde of Silver Hand, and had to fight their way through at close combat just to get to the door.
They left no one alive, bursting through the door and stepping back in horror at the sight of a dead werewolf strung up in a side closet just inside the door.
“And they call us animals,” Aela spat on the floor.
Luthien took out the next two, while Aela snuck up and shot the first woman they at the top of the stairs in the back. The second came at her with a vengeance, promising to tear the beast from her soul. Lining the walls were cages containing three werewolves, and while Aela battled the Silver Hand, Luthien picked the locks and set them free, one by one, watching as they charged for to ravage their captors.
“Where the hell is Skjor? He must be inside already,” Aela said, a hint of worry in her tone.
“I hope he’s all right.”
“He’s fine, I’m sure, but he should have waited for us. It isn’t like him to go into battle without a shield-sibling beside him.”
They followed the sound of voices until it led to a closed door. Aela leaned in and listened, turning over to nod at Luthien to let her know they’d found what they were looking for. She leaned back along the wall, and Luthien kicked in the door, charging into the room and stopping short to catch the strangled breath that wrenched her throat.
She’d found Skjor, or at least what was left of him, and felt the fire of vengeance set her heart aflame. Skjor, who had shared his wisdom with her. Skjor, who had once been a captain of the Blades, who had led an army of 40,000 men into battle, who had given up his left eye for a cause he wholeheartedly believed in, and they had torn him apart.
“You bastards!” She heard Aela scream from behind her, an arrow unleashing into the man flanking Krev the Skinner on the right. She harged in and began hacking away at the first Silver Hand to come at her.
Their leader looked up from his throne, his sickening grin one of the most hideous Luthien had ever seen. He drew out his axe and rushed at her, and for a moment she saw her whole life flash before her eyes. How could she stand against such a foe, a foe who had taken down the mighty Skjor?
Her heart felt like it might explode inside her chest, fear and grief igniting her passion for revenge. Skjor had been her brother, a mentor, and though he may not have liked her very much at first, in the end he’d come to respect, even love her like a sister. She unleashed a mighty battle-cry that startled Krev the Skinner long enough to catch him off guard for her to charge in. She didn’t know how she got through the next few minutes, coming out alive with a tangle of Silver Hand bodies on the floor around her and so much blood on her armor, the smell of it made her feel sick. When she finally found her wits again and shook off the pain that wracked her body, it was the sound of Aela’s sobs that drew her back into the moment.
“He should have never come here without us,” Aela cried. “He knew better. He knew…”
“Aela, I’m sorry.” She reached out to lay a hand of comfort on her shield-sister’s shoulder, but Aela would have no comfort.
She spun around hard and fast, the blade in her hand still dripping with blood. “We will avenge him, sister,” she snarled. “We will not rest until every last Silver Hand is dead.”